IPL vs. Laser Hair Removal: Everything You Need To Know

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The typical hair removal methods most people use — plucking, shaving, threading, and waxing — often provide satisfactory results. They all effectively get rid of unwanted hair. 

However, their effects are temporary. As such, in more recent years, people have been seeking more permanent solutions for body hair removal.

Enter IPL and laser hair removal. 

A woman getting IPL hair removal  treatment in a beauty salon.

These two procedures have become a go-to alternative hair removal method for many. They have soared in popularity recently, and it’s easy to see why. 

Both treatments are safer, more effective, and more convenient than others. 

But what are the differences between IPL vs. laser hair removal? Is IPL hair removal effective enough, or will investing in laser hair removal be a better way to spend your money?

Read on to discover everything you need to know about how to pick between intense pulsed light vs. laser hair removal.

What Is Semi-Permanent Hair Removal?

Hair follicles are embedded deep within the skin, and at their ends are hair bulbs. These bulbs play a vital role in growing hair. 

So if you don’t destroy the bulb or the root of unwanted hair, you can expect regrowth in a short amount of time. 

This is why many people seek semi-permanent hair removal methods like IPL and laser treatments, which provide longer-lasting results. 

Both methods of semi-permanent hair removal use light energy to destroy the bulb itself as well as the melanin inside the hair follicles. Doing so prevents future regrowth for a long period of time.

The effects of both IPL and laser hair removal may last for many years. Additionally, if regrowth happens, the hair usually grows back thinner and sparser. 

What Is the Difference Between IPL and Laser Hair Removal? 

An infographic featuring differences between ipl and laser hair removal

The idea behind how IPL and laser hair removal work is similar: they use light to target melanin in the hair follicles and create heat to damage them. 

Despite having a similar concept, the two treatments differ in significant ways you might want to take note of. 

Here’s a basic breakdown of the differences between laser vs. IPL permanent hair removal.

IPLLaser Hair Removal
Type of light usedBroad-spectrum lightOne-frequency, highly concentrated light
CoverageCovers a bigger area at a timeCovers a smaller area at a time for enhanced precision
Suitability Ideal for anyone with darker hair colors and fair skinIdeal for everyone
CostMore budget-friendly but requires more sessionsExpensive but requires less sessions
SessionsSix to 10 sessionsTwo to 10 sessions

To give you a more comprehensive look into each method and help you decide between IPL vs. laser hair removal, we’ll define them both and list their pros and cons in detail. 

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

Intense Pulsed Light or IPL hair removal is a non-invasive treatment done with high-intensity light pulses sent toward a targeted area on the skin. 

IPL involves using a handheld device over a targeted area, which produces a broad light spectrum to generate heat in the hair follicles and target the melanin in them. 

An IPL hair removal device and a blue towel on the background

This disrupts the normal cycle of hair regrowth and effectively damages and destroys the hair follicles to reduce the growth of unwanted hair. 

Pros and Cons of IPL

If you’re considering getting IPL, you need to know about its benefits and drawbacks compared to laser hair removal. 

Here are IPL’s pros and cons.

Pros of IPL

  • Permanently reduces hair growth, even when hair follicles recover from IPL damage after a couple of years
  • Helps prevent ingrown hairs in the future
  • Uses a broad light spectrum, making it suitable for treating dark blonde, brown, dark brown, and black hair
  • Ensures quick treatment sessions
  • Has a more affordable price than laser hair removal 
  • Involves a fairly easy treatment process that can be done at home

Cons of IPL

  • Has a higher risk of hair regrowth compared to laser hair removal
  • Requires more sessions to achieve the same thorough effects of laser hair removal
  • May not work with light blond hair or darker skin tones
  • May not work as effectively if performed on people currently suffering from hormonal imbalances

What To Expect From Your IPL Session

During Your Session

Your dermatologist will walk you through the procedure when you come in for your IPL session. He or she will also be there for any concerns or questions you may have to make you feel comfortable.

Since the machine emits a broad spectrum of light, it may cause some damage to your eyes if looked at directly. During the session, you will be given goggles to wear to protect your eyes. 

The medical professional will start the treatment by moving the IPL device over the target area. 

It’s normal to feel a bit uncomfortable during your session. This is due to the heat generated within your skin by the treatment. It shouldn’t be too uncomfortable, however. 

If you feel any type of pain that is unbearable or goes on for a long time, you should tell your dermatologist immediately. 

After Your Session

After your session, you may find your skin looking and feeling like it has a sunburn. This will last for around two to five hours following the procedure. 

Also, your skin will be sensitive to heat for a few days post-treatment. Because of this, it’s recommended that people who underwent IPL avoid bathing in extremely hot water. 

Your aesthetician will also give you a skincare routine following your treatment. Following this is crucial if you want your skin protected from external damage, especially UV rays. 

With this skincare routine, you will also be advised to avoid exfoliation and veer away from products with chemicals that may cause excess sensitivity. 

If you experience any blisters after the procedure, it’s also advised that you don’t try to pop or pick at them since this may result in scarring. 

Laser Hair Removal 

Laser hair removal is another non-invasive treatment that uses highly concentrated light from a laser to damage the hair follicles, effectively inhibiting hair growth in the future. 

Like IPL, this method uses light to penetrate the hair follicle, targeting the melanin in it. 

When the light is absorbed by the melanin, it turns into heat, essentially damaging the hair root or bulb to prevent hair growth. 

Unlike IPL, advancements in laser hair removal technology have made it safe and effective for most people, including those with light blond hair or people with dark skin. 

How? One of the main differences between laser hair removal and IPL is that the former uses a highly concentrated type of laser to vaporize the hair bulb. 

This type of light only uses a monochromatic frequency or one-color light. 

Given how concentrated a laser is, it’s more precise when targeting hair follicles, making it safe for people with darker skin. 

On the flip side, IPL targets melanin in wider areas, and it can’t distinguish between the melanin in the hair follicles and the skin. So it poses a higher risk of irritation for those with melanin-rich skin.


Since it leaves virtually no trace of the hair bulb or follicle, the hair removal effect of using this process lasts longer than IPL, which is prone to leave some follicles intact. 

Pros and Cons of Laser Hair Removal

A cosmetologist doing a laser hair removal on a woman's legs

Pros of Laser Hair Removal

  • More effective at hair removal since it uses concentrated, high-intensity light to remove unwanted hair at the root 
  • More precise at removing hair from targeted areas
  • Suitable for most body parts, including the face
  • Ideal for all skin types and hair colors

Cons of Laser Hair Removal

  • Can be expensive, depending on the area you want treated
  • May not work as effectively if performed on people currently suffering from hormonal imbalances

What To Expect at Your Laser Hair Removal Appointment

During the Session

Before starting, your dermatologist will explain the process to you and address any concerns or questions that you may have about the treatment.

The session usually starts when the dermatologist or the dermatologist’s assistant cleans the area to be treated. If you are sensitive to pain, they may apply numbing gel to the area as well.

You will be asked to wear protective eye goggles for your treatment. This procedure uses a laser, which emits highly-concentrated beams of light that may damage your eyes. 

When the numbing gel takes effect, the dermatologist will use the laser device to focus the beam of light on the target area. 

When this happens, you may feel some discomfort akin to the sensation of a rubber band snapping or a sunburn sting. 

If you see smoke, this is normal, as the laser vaporizes your hair follicles. You may also notice a sulfurous smell. 

After the Session

Following your laser hair removal session, you may feel some minor side effects from the procedure. Mainly, you may experience skin irritation and pigmentation. 

Do not fret, though, since these are normal side effects that may last for only a few days. 

Your dermatologist will also recommend a skincare routine for you to follow after your procedure. 

Since your skin will be highly sensitive during this time, the routine will generally involve soothing and protective skincare products to calm your skin and keep it safe from damage. 

It’s best to avoid going under the sun for too long for a few days after the procedure. If you do go out, make sure to wear sunscreen.

Avoid hot baths as well. 

IPL or Laser Hair Removal: Which Is Better?

While you know the differences in how they work, you may wonder which one is better. Well, this depends on what you’re looking for.

Here are some things to consider when choosing between IPL vs. laser hair removal.

Target Areas

Both IPL and laser can be used in most areas of the body. The usual places where these procedures are used include the legs, arms, and face.

However, IPL is less effective on darker skin.

Also, if you’re looking for a less harsh treatment that covers a broader area, IPL may work for you. If you’re looking for a targeted, more potent solution, go for laser hair removal.

Pain and Discomfort

While it’s described as high-intensity light, IPL uses a more diffused, broad-spectrum light to try and get rid of the hair. 

Meanwhile, the high-intensity light used in laser treatments is highly concentrated.

Given these, the discomfort you may feel while undergoing IPL hair removal is minimal compared to laser hair removal. However, the discomfort you feel in laser hair removal is completely bearable.

Nevertheless, you should not experience excruciating or prolonged pain with either IPL or laser hair removal.

If you do, make sure to notify the medical professional doing your procedure. 

Cost

Between the two, IPL is more budget-friendly as laser treatments require the use of expensive  laser machines.

However! Despite the lower price, IPL requires more sessions than laser treatments, so the price eventually evens out.

That said, the prices of IPL and laser hair treatments vary depending on the target area.

IPL may go for  $45 to $80 USD for small areas like the lip. Meanwhile, larger areas like the chest can cost $275 to $450.

On the other hand, on average, the cost of getting laser hair treatment is $306. 

It can start at $100 for small areas, but for larger areas like the chest and legs, it may start at $350 or even end up costing $1,300 per session. 

Sessions

IPL hair removal vs. laser hair removal: does one involve more sessions than the other? Generally, yes; IPL requires more treatment sessions for guaranteed effectiveness, although this will depend on the target area. 

Laser uses a more potent and concentrated light, you will need fewer treatment sessions and follow-up sessions compared to IPL. A laser treatment course for hair removal can be done in just four to six sessions. 

Since IPL uses diffused light, you need more sessions to obtain similar effects as the laser hair treatment. For best results, you must have around six to 10 sessions. 

Another thing to expect is that IPL sessions are shorter than laser hair removal sessions. IPL covers a larger area at a time compared to laser, so one session can be done in just a few minutes. 

Usually, IPL can be done in small areas like the upper lip in just five minutes, while larger areas may take 30 to 45 minutes to complete. 

On the other hand, since laser treatment is more concentrated, it’ll take a while to finish a session. Laser treatments for the upper lip may take up to five to 10 minutes to complete, while larger areas may take an hour or more. 

Skin Tone and Hair Color

If you have fair skin with dark blond to black hair, both IPL and laser will work well for you. 

If you have dark skin or if you have light blonde, red, or white hair, IPL is not suitable for you, so it would be better to opt for laser hair removal. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Happens When I Use IPL Too Often?

Using IPL too often doesn’t speed up the hair removal process. On top of this, you may even run the risk of irritating your skin by having too many IPL treatments in a short amount of time. 

So make sure to get IPL treatments only once every four to six weeks. 

Can I Do IPL or Laser Hair Removal at Home? 

If you want a hair removal treatment you can DIY at home, you should look into IPL. Currently, you may find IPL devices that you can use in the comfort of your own home on the market. 

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for laser hair removal. Since laser devices used for aesthetic treatments are powerful, they should only be used by trained professionals. 

Choosing Between IPL or Laser for Hair Removal

Safe, effective, and accessible, there’s no stopping the growth in popularity of semi-permanent hair removal methods like IPL and laser hair removal. 

A cosmetologist is using a laser hair removal treatment on a woman's legs in a beauty salon

Whichever hair removal method you choose, both solutions offer the convenience of not worrying about regrowth for months or even years. 

Other than the higher cost, both provide plenty of benefits. But when choosing the right one for you, always consider weighing their pros against their cons.

Hopefully, this article on the differences between IPL vs. laser hair removal has helped you learn about what distinguishes them from each other. 

With this, you can pick the right treatment for you and experience hair-free skin for longer! 

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Authors

  • Ashley Pena

    Ashley Pena brings over 13 years of seasoned writing and editing expertise, fortified by her Bachelor of Science in Management. Esteemed in the beauty domain, her content captivates readers with its depth and authenticity. While she navigates a broad spectrum of beauty trends, Ashley shines particularly as our resident K-beauty guru. Her articles are a harmonious blend of passion and profound knowledge, inspiring readers on their unique beauty journeys.

  • Emily Zink

    With ten years in healthcare, Emily Zink bridges adult and pediatric medicine with cosmetic dermatology. A certified Family Nurse Practitioner, she's an expert in treatments like Botox, Dysport, and Sculptra, also diagnosing skincare concerns and offering wellness counseling. Specializing in neuromodulators and dermal fillers, Emily leads injections at her practice.

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